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Meet the Pyro [GO/ER]
Jun 27th, 2012 by Dan

Ever wondered what it was like to be the Pyro? What the Pyro sees and thinks? You may never sleep again…

Man, Valve is so awesome…

What I’ve Been Doing 14 May 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
May 14th, 2012 by Dan

Tropico 4

I felt a little guilty being El Presidente. Photo courtesy SegmentNext)

Want people to get a taste of your game? Have a free weekend. I put in 11 hours and I probably would have bought the game if it wasn’t for Diablo 3 dropping tomorrow. Sorry, Tropico 4. Maybe next Steam sale.

Movies

Election – The prototype that all kinds of high school shows like Popular and Glee seems to crib off of. Not amazing or anything, but I thought Reese Witherspoon’s performance was just perfect. She really hit the right notes in Tracy’s obsessive need to win and I especially liked when she had that confrontation scene with Broderick about the teacher she was sleeping with.

TV

Mad Men – Mad Men is really killing it, man. Really great performances make for solid character work. The Megan/Don relationship continues to be intriguing, but who knows how much of it is left.

Girls – I loved the last couple of minutes of the show with the diary reading. Really hooked me in to want to see more.

Veep – Best line: “You’re not fucking Thor, mom?” Although the cutouts in the closet scene was a little on the nose. This show continues to improve every episode and I already loved it at the premiere!

The Voice – The cover of Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help from My Friends” made me want to go and listen to the original (the cover, that is) and I’m not only way more impressed with that version, I’m impressed with the restraint Cocker shows that the artists on the show don’t seem to have. You don’t have to turn every note into a power note, guys, but I see why you might want to on a singing show. Oh, also Christina Aguilera never wears pants and it’s weird/gross/hilarious.

New Girl – Rushed. Overdone. Why are Schmidt and Cece breaking up? Would have been “Most Improved” sitcom of the year if it had stuck the landing.

Fashion Police – Joan Rivers is really mean, but kind of funny. Still could do without watching this show.

Parks and Recreation – “Jerry forgot to vote.” “Dammit Jerry!” Not everything about the election storyline worked, but it was a solid season of good comedy. I hope they rally to S3 levels for S5.

Community – The second clip show goes and improves upon the first so much that I like it even more. Fantastically done.

Bob’s Burgers – Eh. Didn’t love it as much as the premiere. I think this show is good, but not great.

Music

Bold words from Lupe Fiasco. Pretty great stuff.

Books

Not really…

Video Games

The Old Republic – Finished Nar Shaddaa with my Trooper. This new droid companion is awesome. Super funny. I think Bioware has cornered the market on funny droid writing.

Tropico 4 – I like having a steady sim to sit down and chill out with. Don’t get me wrong, T4 is a second tier sim, but you could do worse in the time before the next Sim City game launches and now.

Social Gaming (As It Stands) is a BANE ON HUMANITY [GO/YCQMOT]
Oct 20th, 2011 by Dan

To the abovementioned small man and to others like him, to all the craftsmen of these mommy’s-credit-card-number-snatching games like Tap Zoo and Tap Pet Shop and Top Girl and what-have-you, I offer this lesson from the annals of economics:

“Monetize” is a fucking stupid word.

The idea of a business is to make money.

“To do business” means “to monetize something”.

A “product” is something a business makes.

To speak of “monetizing a product” borders on ridiculous.

If your product is not “monetized”, you’re not in business.

In the modern sense: the only reason to actively talk about “monetizing” is when part of your plan is to trick the user into believing they don’t actually need to pay.

“Monetize” is a word that is nearly synonymous with “to do evil”: to “monetize” a game means to promise the user a “full experience” for absolutely no cost, and then scheme, and devise, and calculate reasons for the user to pay anyway. Then you make them pay anyway. Albeit gently (and shrewdly (and without use of violent force)), isn’t that the same as stealing from people?

-tim rogers. “The Sims Social

Well I think it’s been too long since I wrote about something tim rogers wrote on this site. I finally got around to reading his review of The Sims Social (linked above). It’s long, but it’s vitally important to read going into the future. I’ll wait while you read it.

You back? Okay.

He wrote a companion piece at insert credit too. Read away.

(My favorite bit)

A silence. Now the larger man pointed at me. “He’s run all the numbers on our product.”

The older men looked at me.

“I’ve run them all,” I said.

“It’s totally solid,” the larger man said.

“It’s solid like a rock,” I said.

“It’s unsinkable,” the smaller man said.

“It’s an unsinkable rock. An unsinkable, solid rock.”

-tim rogers. “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)

Ok, we’re back. Do you feel vaguely sick yet? I know I do. Heck, I threw up in my mouth a little. How did we get here? More importantly, how do we fix this?

I don’t think that microtransaction-based gaming is evil. All you have to do is look at Valve and Team Fortress 2. Everything you want to do in TF2 (minus item trading) is absolutely free. Not a dime has to be spent to improve gameplay. Weapons are distributed to you randomly, but at fairly regular intervals and they can be used to construct new weapons. Most importantly, while buying weapons increases your arsenal, they are, overall, not necessary. You can play the game for free and have an equal success as someone who paid for anything. This is fundamentally different than Farmville or The Sims Social where you can pay to have a leg up on completing the game’s goals (loosely defined as those might be).

Sometimes I think, “Who am I to judge the ethical merits of what other people do/create for a living?” I mean, glass houses, right? Then I read a line that is certainly meant to vilify, but also rings hauntingly true:

An ex-drug-dealer (now a video game industry powerbrain) once told me that he doesn’t understand why people buy heroin. The heroin peddler isn’t even doing heroin. Like him or not, when you hear Cliff Bleszinski talk about Gears of War, he sounds — in a good way — like a weed dealer. He sounds like he endorses what he is selling. When you’re in a room with social games guys, the “I never touch the stuff” attitude is so thick you’ll need a box cutter to breathe properly.

(also from “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)”

For all the misinterpreted glamor of Mad Men‘s cast, most viewers seem to miss the point that undercuts the whole show. People despise ad men. Most non-advertising characters in the show despise ad men. The characters sweep racism under the rug, openly lie to customers, and present that life as vapid and meaningless. When Betty realizes that she has been manipulated by an ad in Season 2, she is horrified, insulted, and hurt. She knows how the ad men speak of their marks and is resentful of the manipulation.

People look at the gambling industry with scorn because they operate under the same principles that tim is decrying in his articles. I argue that it’s worse than that. At least in a casino you have a (low) chance of winning money back. This kind of human manipulation just feels dirty. It’s not addictive, in the drug sense, but it preys upon human tendencies and impulses in such a naked way that it is horrifying.

It’s not hyperbole to call social gaming, as it stands, a bane on humanity. The kind of thinking that leads us to develop these systems is inherently selfish and greedy. The companies that are pushing these games are filled with people stealing from you with only two or three layers of abstraction between their hands actually entering your wallets. That’s without dwelling on the kinds of behaviors that these models of play encourage.

There’s a way out of this (or maybe not), but it’s not easy. Don’t ever spend money on those games. Don’t give them their fabled White Whale. Then again, you should just do what you want. Just consider yourself informed now.

2010 in Video Games [GO]
Jan 5th, 2011 by Dan

The Super Potato Exterior in Akihabara

Super Potato in Akihabara

As is typical of me, I played a ton of video games this year. Here’s a listing of what I played along with a few short (or long) words on each game. For the most part, this list is restricted to games released in 2010 unless I did not play them until this year. It’s also mostly in chronological order, with some skips here and there.

Mother 3: Definitely did not come out in 2010. I reviewed it already, but let me say that there is significant beauty to this game. Affecting and heartwrenching, this is easily among the best games I played this year. Do not play this on an emulator because the music-timing of the battles is deliciously fun and the time lag of emulation makes that impossible to experience.

Mass Effect 2: The first AAA game of the year. My review trended toward disappointing, mostly due to the way that story was handled in this iteration compared to part 1. Still, an undeniably great game whose heist-story mechanics and plot are unique and interesting in the gaming landscape. I can’t wait for part three in November.

Heavy Rain: Almost as exciting as actually doing the chores your imaginary wife forces you to do in real life. The execution just missed with this one and its plot twist was asinine and felt cheap. If you’re allowed to hear the thoughts of the protagonists, but you fail to provide a logical reason as to why that person is lying to us (himself?), you’ve lost me.

Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 (Professional Baseball Spirits 2010): My baseball game of the year. I love taking the Carp to the Japan Series each year. I spent countless hours developing my franchise. This game was worth every dollar I spent importing it.

Final Fantasy XIII: Thoroughly disappointing. Expect more from me on this (edits from the future!), but SqueEnix really dropped the ball something fierce here. A game that suffered from complete lack of creative direction. Final Fantasy XIII is the head of the snake eating its own tail that has become SqueEnix.

Yakuza (1, 2, )3: Did not put that much time into this one, but I did play its prequels to completion. Fiercely Japanese in design, I just haven’t found the time to get deep into this gem. I’m sure it’s actually pretty great.

Mega Man 10: It lacked some of MM9’s magic (partially by being easier), but still a razor sharp example of why the Blue Bomber captured our hearts in the first place. Pump Man’s power, while heavily reminiscent of Leaf Man, is deliciously fun to play with. Using it again Solar Man was also tons of fun for me.

Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilve: It was fun to go back to the best two games in the series. The Pokewalker was stupid, but I have high hopes for Black & White. These games are easily dismissed as rehashes, but they’re still white-hot proof that JRPG design doesn’t have to be needlessly complex to be addictive and elegant.

Alien Swarm: Valve gave me this game for free. I played it maybe twice. Decent fun, but I’d rather play Left 4 Dead 2.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey: Never beat this game. SMT continues to be ridiculously tough and legitimately mature in their presentation of mankind’s eternal struggles against its darker tendencies. Maybe it’s the first-person dungeon crawling, but something about this game prevents me from ever picking it up most days.

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse: I’m lumping all five episodes into one entity. I find TellTale adventure games to be workmanlike in quality. With the exception of the last two or three episodes of Tales of Monkey Island, they lack the extra oomph that could make them truly great. That said, The Devil’s Playhouse was the most hilarious Sam & Max iteration yet. From Sam & Max’s insistence on pronouncing General Skun’kape as skunk-ape to their episode-wide fight over what to call the menacing Sam clones (Samulacra or Doggleganger?), these games were absolute riots. Now if only TellTale could figure out how to make them great games as well…

Monster Hunter Tri: One gaming session. The sword swipes pack so much friction it’s beautiful. Despite this, never picked it up again. Got a sick black classic controller out of it. Now if only I played Wii more often…

Super Street Fighter IV: Played the hell out of last year’s iteration. Opted to play other games since it was structurally similar to vanilla Street Fighter IV. Kind of wish I’d played it a lot more this year.

Green Day: Rock Band: Played it once, exported the tracks to Rock Band 2/3, never felt the need to boot it up again. Despite only 1 hour of playtime, unlocked an achievement. Fixing the ‘D’ rank that came as a result on Giant Bomb is the only reason I will ever boot this up again.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies: Practically perfect in almost every way that a JRPG should be. I understand why the story was left more generic than years past, but the lack of an interesting narrative is what kept me from finishing.

DeathSpank: Played the demo once. Bought it on PC to support Ron Gilbert. Might actually play it one day. It seemed funny.

Comic Jumper: Hilarious in a juvenile way, I slogged through the repetitive, mediocre gameplay just to see more of this game. I think Min “played” this the right way. He watched me beat it and got to enjoy the presentation without having to touch a controller.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty: Am I the only person who hates what they did at the end of this story? Sure, it has legitimately far-reaching consequences for the sequel, but I think they’re also legitimately less interesting. Still, as perfectly constructed a game as they come. I fell out of playing it, but it definitely feels like I could pick it up at any time and have fun with it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game: A loving tribute to River City Ransom wrapped up in a franchise that I really enjoy. Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Loads of fun, but, like most middling brawlers, starts to wear on you toward the end as there’s not enough variety introduced in later levels.

Worms: Reloaded: Love Worms. Loaded this up once and never did it again. I’ve hated all Worms interfaces since Worms 2, mostly because they obfuscate and hide customization options more and more as they transition toward console friendliness. I wish they’d put more effort into their PC version.

Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, Dead Rising 2, and Dead Rising 2: Case West: I’ll lump these all together since they are mostly the same game spread out into chunks. The prologue and epilogue (Zero and West, respectively) are just small and feature-gimped enough that they lack the oomph of the full retail release. Dead Rising 2 itself was everything I wanted it to be. A more robust co-op system would be all it needed to be top tier, but I still had loads of fun with it. As a bonus, Min and Dead Rising 2 taught me how to play Texas Hold ‘Em this year.

Civilization V: You probably saw my review where I hated on the terrible AI. I haven’t played since they patched/fixed it, but if they did it right, this game could totally fall back within my good graces. I do sincerely love this game, it’s just not what I hoped it would be and, in its present form, not as good as IV.

Rock Band 3: Harmonix went and made a perfect Rock Band game. Now all I’ve got to do is get my hands on a pro-guitar and I might actually learn something practical from a game that lets me indulge in all my favorite music.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale: Ever wanted to run a JRPG item shop? This indie game translated from Japan is charming and fun, but I haven’t had the time to devote myself to it yet in 2010.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: So good until the end. Can a stupid ending mar an otherwise good game? Yeah, kinda. I still loved it for the great acting (weird to say, right?), but stupid ending + sub-Uncharted 2 traversal-style gameplay mires this one in the mediocre bin. The fighting system could also have used a little less frame-lock in its animations (is that what this is called?). Can’t count how many times I died because I was stuck in a seconds-long super attack aimed at the air.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Unparalleled artistic vision ties this game together. I haven’t put too much time in, but it seems super easy. I want to play with a friend to get the most out of this. What do you say, Min?

Super Meat Boy: Juxtaposing Kirby and Super Meat Boy is wrong on so many levels. One is like chamber music. Beautiful, complex, but not so complex it’s tough to listen to. The other is kick-you-in-the-teeth, bite off a squirrel head, make you a man heavy metal. Super Meat Boy is so deliciously crunchy in every way that it might be the best game game on this list. Where Starcraft II is perfect with a Beatles-type polish, Super Meat Boy is The Clash; unabashedly punk rock. I love this game. It’s so addictive and fun.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX: Did I say Super Meat Boy was perfect? Pac-Man CE DX (PMCEDX) is video gaming distilled to its primal essence. Eat a whole train of 30 ghosts and I dare you not to feel primitive fun stir deep within you. Words cannot express how great this game is in bite-sized chunks.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge: Is it cheating to count a re-release? This is probably the greatest adventure game ever now with a commentary track recorded by the big three: Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer.

Poker Night at the Inventory: Strong Bad is unbelievably annoying, but banter between Max, Heavy Weapons Guy, and Tycho are always a joy. The second half of this year’s poker lessons were learned here. Now if only I could get straight flush and four-of-a-kind hands so that I can 100% the achievements in this game!

Back to the Future: The Game: The voice acting and atmosphere in this game are both spot on. Unfortunately I hit a game breaking bug and had to start over. That sucked.

Limbo: First played this on 31 December, so it still counts. Deeply atmospheric, but darkly disturbing and difficult for me to stomach more than once a day. I want to go more into that in another post. Unfortunately for the game, I think the controls are a touch floaty, which I mostly find frustrating because I need to beat it dying fewer than 5 times for an achievement.

And that was 2010 in video games (for me). I missed some huge ones (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Call of Duty: Black Ops), but I think I got a good spread in there. Here’s to another great year in gaming for 2011.

Getting to Know Your Friends [Game Overview]
Dec 31st, 2009 by Dan

New Super Mario Brothers Wii is marriage poison.
-Gabe (AKA Jerry Holkins). “The Fullness of Time

In the past two months I’ve learned one very important truth about my friends: they’re complete jerks. Not in any friendship kind of way, but in the if-it-came-down-to-it-would-they-have-my-back kind of way. It all started with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo made an important design choice with the game by giving each character physical impenetrability with each other and allowing (almost) the entire moveset to work on fellow players. In a nutshell, you can push, run into, and jump off of your buddies and you can pick them up and throw them around, but fireballs pass through other players. The result can be total (accidental) chaos or it can devolve into actual, sincerely evil behavior toward your fellow players.

The evil doesn’t have to be obvious, like picking up fellow players and throwing them into a chasm, it can also be little things like taking multiple power-ups “by accident” or “inadvertently” getting in the way of jumps or platforms. In our case, we started off our first session for the night in the first world of NSMBW with a somewhat cooperative nature about us. I showed the other two how we could affect each other’s gameplay (I’d been practicing some a few days earlier at my brother’s house, which I’m not sure I’m welcome in anymore after playing, haha) and then popped us out really quick to play one of the legitimately competitive multiplayer modes. As I expected, putting us into a competitive mode for a few levels carried right on over to the cooperative experience and we were at each other’s throats for the rest of the game. Sometimes the sabotage was deliberate. I distinctly remember Darek picking me up and throwing me into lava when I least expected it. Since we were high up, it was torture to watch my avatar tumble for a few seconds before burning to death. Another time saw us all standing on a narrow platform. Ian suddenly jumped up and butt stomped me, sending poor Mario flying helplessly into a chasm. There was a glimmer of hope late in World 8. Faced with obstacles too tough to tackle while at each other’s throats, a temporary truce was effected and we were able to traverse the level after many attempts. That goodwill continued into the final battle against Bowser and we were finally able to conquer the game.

There is a drastic shift in tone when you go from NSMBW to Left 4 Dead 2, both in how vital cooperative play is and how devastating griefing can be to a team’s chances at survival. Valve crafted the game experience to almost ensure 100% failure when a player is by himself. Every time one of the four survivors is too separated, dead, or incapacitated, the chance of failure rises dramatically, especially on the higher difficulty levels. Playing this game gives you a feel for how your friends might react in a true zombie apocalypse. Consider that there is zero risk to a person’s real physical health in this game. Death just means you have to restart the level. That means that reckless behavior is far more likely, but Valve has crafted a game that still seems to encourage cautious, self-serving behavior in most. Let’s take a look at how some of my friends play to see what their personalities are like.

Nolan

If there’s one thing that you can be sure of when you play a game with Nolan, it’s that he knows what he’s doing. How can you tell? He will loudly tell you at every chance what you’re doing wrong. Nolan is also very focused on winning at any cost. Exploiting the death system (when you die, you start the next level with higher health, but none of the weapons you had) and optimizing weapon load outs are his main strategies. Unfortunately for me, I can also count on him to let me die if he’s within running distance of the safe room. I could be just outside the door with only two zombies beating on my incapacitated body and I’m pretty sure he would just shoot me to help me die faster. Ruthless.

Ian

You know that one guy in a horror movie who’s always too far ahead or behind or too inquisitive? I’m sure you also know who tends to die first in those movies. Ian is always just out of reach or eyesight, which is devastating when you get pounced on by a hunter and it takes him so long to get back to you that you’ve been incapacitated. The opposite situation is also often true, with Ian so far ahead that the team gets there just in time to see him shuffle off of this mortal coil. Like Nolan, if you’re surrounded by zombies near a safe room, he will run inside and bolt the door shut. Expect the only help you might get from him to be a molotov cocktail…thrown at your still upright body, killing all the zombies and incapacitating you before you can escape the flames. Sometimes it’s better not to help…

Min

A player who I feel has developed along the Dan Mesa path of Left 4 Dead playing, I can count on Min to risk life and limb to save me in any situation, provided I don’t tell him to just continue on without me. Min likes to stick with the group and remains mostly aware of the status of the other three players. When the going gets tough, you can count on him to at least try to save the team (or blow them up by accident with a grenade launcher), but if you’ve been getting on his nerves, he may just leave you to die.

The funny thing is that these gameplay styles mostly translate to the personalities of the friends involved. I can’t tell you how many times we’d be walking home from dinner and Ian would suddenly be missing because he was playing with a giant snowball or rushing ahead to beat us somewhere. As to whether or not Nolan would truly let me die in a zombie apocalypse, I can’t really be sure about it without the zombpocalypse occurring, but I’m not that optimistic.

Best Video Games of the Decade [Game Overview]
Dec 30th, 2009 by Dan

You may notice some games that are missing from this list and are on every other list. Well, I didn’t play everything because I didn’t have the time or the money, so that accounts for some of the big misses like Pyschonauts or Resident Evil 4. Other games are deliberately omitted :cough: HALO :cough:

This list is also way long, but I didn’t want to limit myself to an arbitrary number like 10 or 20, so here it is:

Half-Life 2 (2004, 2006 – Episode 1, 2007 – Episode 2)

There are two divergent paths for shooters in the aughts. Halo and Half-Life. In the first corner you’ve got everything on the consoles since then: Regenerating health, aim assist, silly physics, and general jackassery. In the better corner you’ve got everything that’s come out of Half-Life and the Source engine: more realistic weaponry, realistic physics, and a much better legacy. Say what you will about the future of shooters and the PC market being antiquated, but this is a damn good shooter. I’d call it the best I’ve ever played. Valve has completely mastered the art of environmental storytelling and player manipulation. They can make you look where they want you to look and feel what they want you to feel all without ever wresting control from the player or relying on cutscenes. This game has brilliant pacing and amazing characters that you actually care about. Who’s ever heard of an NPC sidekick that you don’t hate? H-L 2 and its episodes are among the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Rock Band 2 (2008)

Ok, so rhythm games are kind of saturated now, but Rock Band 2 is the pinnacle (only because The Beatles: Rock Band doesn’t let players bring their dlc in) of music gaming. It hits at just the right sweet spot, four players, and its filled with music from all kinds of genres. Better yet, the interface and note tracking isn’t sloppy like that other franchise and it’s a fantastic way to get people together for a fun time and even grow as a person. It’s probably the game I’ve played the most since 2008 and a ridiculously fun time.

Left 4 Dead (2008) and Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

There are a lot of Valve games on this list. The Left 4 Dead series is on it because it has done cooperative, first-person multiplayer right in a way I’ve yet to see done better elsewhere. Everything about these games is top notch, tons of fun, and worth returning to time and time again. Beyond the mechanics, the games also feature great environmental storytelling and fantastic voice acting putting it at the top of my list for the best games of the past two years. Zombies may be getting old, but this series will always feel fresh.

Braid (2008)

Jonathan Blow didn’t revolutionize video gaming when he released Braid last summer. What he did do was bring indie games (and XBL games, in general) firmly into the spotlight for consideration. A self-funded and self-made game, Braid proved that one man (and one hired artist) could still create a top-notch, professional caliber game. Braid is deep and complex and tons of fun to play, especially when you’ve figured out a tricky puzzle.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005)

OBJECTION! This game should be higher on the list. Overruled, this list has no numerical ordering.

The Japanese sensation that brought visual novels and a resurgence in adventure games to America may have a niche audience and play real loose with the legal system of the real world, but it’s tons of fun. Just think quirky anime and you’ll get the idea of what playing this game is like. It just feels right to present a damning piece of evidence while Phoenix screams OBJECTION!

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

I have yet to beat Shadow of the Colossus, but I absolutely love what I’ve played so far. Ueda is among the genius game designers in how well he understands presentation. The game world feels absolutely empty, as it should. All you come across, as the player, are the giant Colossi and man, they are wild. Each one is a dungeon/level to itself and the player is tasked with taking them down to save his love. But what have these giants done to you? Each one I take down makes me feel sad inside and a little empty. I usually find myself thinking What have I done? What did he ever do to me? The best art makes you think.

Final Fantasy XII (2006)

I had my choice of any Final Fantasy game between 9 and 12 for this spot, but I really couldn’t go with anything but the best. X was definitely a close second, but there are just so many things that XII did right in its evolution of the series that I couldn’t pick anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m in love with the world of Ivalice, but everything about this game just grabs me in a way I hadn’t been grabbed since VI. Maybe it was because I wasn’t being assaulted by too many belt buckles and leather by Nomura. It was probably because the story was mature, the characters way less annoying than before, and the battle system was finally revamped and moved into the 21st century. In any case, the best FF game of the decade.

Portal (2007)

Portal really does everything right. The game gets you acquainted with its mechanics quickly, gets you doing neat things with them right away, and then finishes up with a climactic and cool boss fight all comfortably within the span of 5-8 hours, if you’re slow. With mechanics and dialogue that are beyond brilliant, the only thing that could make this great game better would be to give it a hilarious end credit song penned by Jonathan Coulton. Oh wait, you’ve gone and done that already, haven’t you Valve? Bravo.

Burnout Paradise (2008)

Realistic racing games are kind of boring to me. Until Burnout Paradise, I would have said that I only enjoyed Mario Kart games, and those were starting to wear on me too. Then Criterion put out the first open-world racing game (that I can think of). Burnout Paradise would be tons of fun if all we had to do was run into walls and other cars. The fact that the game is so easy to get online and play (and purchasable as a digital download on the PSN) is brilliant and makes for tons of fun.

Mass Effect (2007)

Shepard. Wrex. It’s brilliant. It really is. Hard science fiction is always tons of fun to me, but when you go and flesh out this world to the nth degree, you’ve got me drooling already. Add in characters I genuinely cared about and enjoyed having in my party and a morality system that was finally free of cheap moral choices and I’d say that Bioware had a genuine hit on their hands. I anxiously await the sequel in January.

Eternal Darkness (2002)

I’m really not a big scary games guy. It’s simple: I’m too jumpy and I’ve got an overactive imagination. Those things don’t combine to make a pleasant gaming experience. Now you want me to play a game that’s actively trying to mess with my head to freak me the hell out? I’d normally say “No thanks,” but I was eventually convinced to try this Lovecraftian horror game and I found myself loving it. The plot is interesting and the characters are neat, but the insanity effects are what stick with me to this day. I can still see that image of Alex lying dead in a bathtub filled with her own blood when I think about it and it still gives me the chills.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)

You know what? I really loved the old-school Mario games. Those 3D ones are way too easy. This game does it right. What makes it even more awesome is that you can play it with four dudes, making it both infinitely harder and easier while also making it more fun and frustrating. Use the multiplayer mode at your own risk, it may start fights.

Rhythm Heaven (2009)

Scratch-O, HA! The Rhythm Heaven (Paradise in Europe) series is loosely based on the bizarre Wario world, which is totally obvious after three minutes of play, which is great, because that series is brilliant (if stale by now) too. This game features simple rhythm mini-games, but man are they fun AND catchy. As I write this I’ve got the Moai statue song stuck in my head. Go play this.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004, Subsistence – 2006)

I love this game. MGS 2 may be the biggest practical joke (and most significant of the four), but this is undoubtedly the best. The epic cycle of the Metal Gear universe is made clear in this game that does its best to subvert war in every way possible. I do truly find it significant that in a Cold War game focused on stealth action, you can make it through from start to finish without killing one person. Well, almost. Metal Gear Solid 3 is almost heartbreaking when you play it non-violently and the ending still has a strong effect on me to this day. Definitely Kojima’s finest work.

World of Warcraft (2004)

I would give anything to get the time I spent playing this game back, but I definitely can’t deny how truly great it is. We’re talking about a bona fide phenomenon here. The absolute refinement of social engineering to such a degree that escape is nearly futile. Blizzard has truly outdone itself with this one.

Team Fortress 2 (2007)

What a surprise, more Valve. The Orange Box was a groundbreaking offering in value and Team Fortress 2 continues to be a huge part of that. I bought this game at launch back in 2007. Since then they have added achievements for nearly every class, new weapons for nearly every class, new game types and maps, hats, and an item crafting system. I’ve never seen so much free support for a game in my life. It’s no reason that Valve is my favorite developer of all time. They really know how to treat their customers and put out a great game.

The Sims 2 (2004)

Yes, I did create Sims of my friends and family. You’d better believe I killed some of them, turned one into a vampire, another into a werewolf, one into a zombie, and bargained with death to revive another. The Sims certainly don’t feel as relevant as they did at the start of this decade, but man were they a success and tons of fun. Sure, I should feel a little guilty that I spent so much time in what amounts to a digital dollhouse, but I really don’t. It was fun.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

If you don’t think that this is the best in the series, you’re wrong and you’re clinging to the past. Tons of characters, great level design, fantastic music, and all the right refinements to the battle system are what makes this great. The fact that I can listen to Snake Eater or the Love Theme from Mother 3 is just icing on the cake.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)

I know most of you saw that Spaceworld Zelda trailer and expected another realistic LoZ on the Gamecube. When you saw that it would look cartoony did you A) Claim that you would never play it or B) Realize that maybe you should give it a chance. If you were an ‘A’ person, you’re too impulsive and need to lighten up a bit, because you missed out on the best Zelda game since Majora’s Mask (another one that most people hate). Celda, as it became known, was a great retelling of the Zelda story and actually kind of explained the world somewhat. It was also really fun to sail around and hunt for treasure.
MLB Power Pros 2008 (2008…obviously)
For some reason I really can’t get into the next-gen baseball games. The pitching and hitting just don’t make sense to me and I’m overall just not that fond of it. Lucky for me, the Japanese are still keeping it real with their Pawapuro and Pro Spirits line of games. I wish I actually had gone and picked up the 2009 editions in Japan, but I’m sure these will come out in the states again someday.
Mother 3 (2006)
Masterpiece. Shigesato Itoi really outdid himself with this game. It’s dark and serious, but also lighthearted and funny. It’s a game that has actual authorial control and, therefore, is a game that is actually art. Itoi’s fingerprints are all over the scenario and the little quirks. It’s no wonder that anyone who’s played a game in this series instantly falls in love with it.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)
I really credit Amy Henning most for the great decisions behind Uncharted 2, a game whose characters are so fully realized that they’re almost real people. It’s not that surprising to me that hearing Nolan North voice other characters makes me wonder why Nathan Drake is moonlighting as a voice actor. Everything about this game is just fun and every aspect of it was polished and enhanced from the previous version. The showcase came for this generation.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002, The Frozen Throne – 2003)
WCIII was the last great RTS I played. I don’t expect to play anything better until StarCraft II comes out later next year (if it comes out). While the story seems mostly lifted from StarCraft, it’s still quite good and an innovation in the way that RTS stories are told and plotted. It also lead right into the most successful game of this decade, WoW.
Dead Rising (2006)
The first game I ever bought for my Xbox 360 and the best (non-L4D-related-) zombie game I’ve ever played. Trust me, I’ve covered wars, you know.
Street Fighter IV (2009)
When you’re reviving the most loved fighting game franchise in history, a lot can go wrong. Do you stray too far from the original and innovate too much or do you go back, reevaluate what was good, and make incremental changes? Sure, the latter is a bit more cowardly, but I love Capcom more for it. I’ve never been much of a fighting game guy, but the instant familiarity of SFIV made it the perfect game to try and break into and I really got into it. My twitter became a repository for my win percentage after each day of play and I devoted hours upon hours of time into developing my Cammy playstyle. In the end, I’m still pretty bad at the game, but I also have tons of fun with it and I’m awaiting Super Street Fighter IV in 2010
Sid Meier’s Civilization IV (2005)
The best series I’ve ever played, bar none. I mean, the number of hours I’ve sunk into Civilization has to dwarf any other game, I’m sure of it. The number of days and nights spent completely developing one civilization is ridiculous. My favorite part of this fourth incarnation was the loose competition Eric and I developed as we would send each other save files intended to compare winning scores against each other. One more turn syndrome got its start here and this is a game that I find myself returning to at least once every year.
Persona 4 (2008)
Remember the days when I was posting every episode of the Giant Bomb Endurance Run on this blog? That series motivated me to finally finish this fantastic RPG and to really get into its characters and events. I’m especially proud of the review I wrote because it feels like my first foray into New Games Journalism, but this game is great for more reasons than that. A fine return to the world of hard RPGs that should be on every person’s queue to play.
My Favorite Bands/Albums/Musical Concepts of the 2000s [Feedback]
Dec 14th, 2009 by Dan

It’s really been tough coming up with the music that has most resonated with me in the 2000s. Wanting to represent the entire decade is tough, since I don’t really find the music that I used to listen to before I went to college all that good. Once I had more money and exposure beyond the mainstream acts I was familiar with in high school, I feel my tastes really changed up some. This list is definitely not representative of the actual best bands of the decade, they’re just bands that had a strong effect on me and my musical development.

I’ll start with a band who I was introduced to my sophomore year of high school, Lucky Boys Confusion.

Lucky Boys Confusion

Notable Albums: Throwing the Game (2001) and Commitment (2003)

This one came to me courtesy of my friend Kristin who brought a burnt copy of Throwing the Game up to Tampa with her for a summer visit my sophomore year of high school (2002). The band isn’t anything too special that’s about to revolutionize music or anything, they’re just a solid rock band from Chicago with a great sound. My favorite songs by the band are “Not About Debra”, a Latin-infused song about a girl in the wrong relationship, “Do You Miss Me? [Killians]”, an upbeat cover of the freestyle classic by the same name (sans the [Killians]) by Jocelyn Enriquez, “Sunday Afternoon”, a nice reggae-type break from the usual uptempo beats that LBC is known for.

The band never really saw much mainstream success. “Hey Driver” was their most popular song and actually made it into some video games, movies, and got some airtime, but they broke up only moderately more famous than they were when they were first signed.

Five Iron Frenzy

Notable Album: The End is Near/Here (2003)

As a primarily ’90s act, I was hesitant to include FIF in my list of my favorite music of the aughts, but their musical swan song had a major effect on my musical development, so I couldn’t rightly leave them out. Beyond just the CD, Five Iron Frenzy’s farewell tour, Winners Never Quit, was the first time I recognized that a live show was well worth attending. Before that I’d seen music live a few times and listened to a live CD here or there, but found them to be sub par. I was annoyed that the songs varied from the usual pace and intricacies of the album version and seemed to have lower quality. It all changed that night.

The small, intimate club atmosphere put me up close with fans for the first time (my previous concerts had been mega-stadium deals) with a band playing an emotional final tour. I also learned the best part about a live show: the new ways in which a band mixes up their music. I got to listen to the amazing FIF Medley (also on The End is Here), which, aside from it luckily being on a CD, I probably would never hear again. Ever since that night in Orlando, concerts became a part of my musical experience and the effect that FIF had on me is apparent when you realize how much of my music is upbeat, uptempo, and filled with brass sections. They may not be the best band on this list, but they’re one of the most important ones.

Rx Bandits

Notable Albums: The Resignation (2003), …And the Battle Begun (2006), Mandala (2009)

I didn’t realize what I got when my friend Daniela gave me a copy of The Resignation for Christmas back in 2004. We listened to it and she brilliantly pinpointed “Mastering the List” as my favorite track on the CD, but I didn’t get just how good the CD was for two years, a testament to how music tastes can drastically change over short periods of time. When I finally started listening in earnest in 2006, I think the best adjective to describe the experience was revelatory.

Of all the bands on this list, I think I’ve gone on and on about the Bandits the most on this blog and for good reason. They are talented, their music is rich and full, their lyrics are pretty solid, if not a little too hippie, and their dedication to an organic sound seems unparalleled in today’s overproduced soundscape. If there’s one album on this post that you choose to listen to, it should be …And the Battle Begun. It’s my favorite album of all time (as of 2009) and I don’t think there’s a single stinker on the whole disc.

Their best songs are “Mastering the List”, “Never Slept So Soundly”, “Decrescendo”, “In Her Drawer”, “Only for the Night” (my favorite on the list), “Tainted Wheat”, “White Lies”, and “Mientras la Veo Soñar.”

If there was one criticism I’d have for the band, it’s that they got rid of their horn section between …And the Battle Begun and Mandala. It doesn’t mean there’s no more brass in their newer work, it just means that it’s no longer a regular part of the band. Shame that they’re losing it, but they claim it has allowed them to open up and improve their song complexity.

Green Day

Notable Album: American Idiot (2004)

Another band that hails primarily from the previous decade, but whose 2004 release marked a huge turning point for the band. Yeah, Dookie is probably their most famous album, but American Idiot went and upped their pop relevance to eleven. The rock opera heralded in the “new” Green Day and turned the band into something far beyond its punk rock roots singing about weed and bumming around. For me, it was a great concept album whose lyrics seemed bold (I’m pretty sure they were early on the Bush backlash train) and far deeper than “Longview.” I don’t listen to the album much today, since I played it out my freshman year, but I’ll still let “Give Me Novacaine” or “Extraordinary Girl” play any time they come up on shuffle.

Relient K

Notable Album: Mmhmm (2004)

When I think of my freshman year at Cornell, American Idiot and Mmhmm are the soundtrack that plays in the background. I listened to both CDs many times on my way too and from the townhouses and the engineering quad, not to mention through my computer’s speakers. Mmhmm represents the transition from Relient K from a slightly niche, Christian music band to a more popular, mainstream act with its understated message (it seems that they returned to their more obvious Christian references with Five Score and Seven Years Ago) and their sound had matured to the best I’d heard since their debut album.

The album is full of some great songs, but my personal favorites are “High of 75″, because it cheered me up in the miserable Ithaca weather, “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend”, because I love sappy love songs, and “Which To Bury, Us or the Hatchet?”, because it resonated with my seriously rocky and messed up relationship at the time. Beyond that, the rest of the album is also great, but I can’t just list all the tracks now, can I?

The Zutons

Notable Albums: Who Killed…… The Zutons? (2004), You Can Do Anything (2008)

This one comes straight from my old high school friend Michelle. A fan of the quirky, indie scene, she recommended that I check out this band of Liverpudlians and I was not disappointed. You almost can’t go wrong with me if you’ve got brass or a saxophone in your band and The Zutons have one saxophonist adding her own distinct flavor to their already distinct rock grooves. Their music is unique and just great to listen to, especially when you get Abi Harding’s voice harmonizing with Dave McCabe’s on a lot of their numbers and the band’s sound has improved greatly from Who Killed on to You Can Do Anything. Their best songs, “Pressure Point”, “Havana Gang Brawl”, “Valerie”, “You Could Make The Four Walls Cry”, “Put A Little Aside”, and “Freak” are all so different, but all so much fun to listen to, even if they’ll probably never get any airtime stateside.

OK Go

Notable Album: Oh No (2005)

There’s a reason the phrase “sophomore slump” is part of the vernacular and it’s not often that a band not only releases a far superior second album, but does so with a significant change in sound. At a live show I saw them play at Cornell, OK Go outright stated that they were going for a safe, pop sound on their first album to try and appeal to the masses. Listening to it yields some decent tracks, but otherwise, I’d be inclined to agree. It’s cautious and it probably got them a record deal, but it’s not great. In three years, they turned around, completely matured their sound, and launched one of my favorite albums of the decade, Oh No. Almost everyone has heard “Here It Goes Again” or seen the treadmill video and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would rather listen to “Get Over It.” They got that much better.

While I’m mentioning the videos, it’s also worth mentioning that Oh No also represents a creative turn for the band with it’s quirky, interesting, low-budget, high awesomeness music videos. “Do What You Want” has a more typical look, but “Here It Goes Again” and “A Million Ways” have hilariously awesome and indie videos a tradition they’ve melded with budget to create their newest video for “WTF”, which you already know I love. I don’t think that the viral video approach to music videos will take over the industry, but I don’t think you can say that they didn’t start something big with their Youtube-released video.

The whole album is pretty solid, but I’d also like to point out “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet” and “Let It Rain” as great tracks (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned). They’re two of the slower, more contemplative ones, but they just feel right to listen to.

Fall Out Boy

Notable Albums: From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Folie à Deux (2008)

Yeah, they’re not the greatest band in history, but they’ve got some seriously catchy songs that I can’t help but enjoy. If their songs don’t make your toes tap, I’d seriously question whether or not you have a soul. FOB finally managed to break mainstream with their sophomore album, a CD filled with a neat take on pop and rock that’s just complex and different enough to pique my interests and just safe enough to be ok with the average Joe. Since then FOB continues to push into strange boundaries with its music borrowing from tons of genres and recording some solid tracks. I may not agree with their single selection (:cough: “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” SUCKS :cough:), but I’d say that 80-90% of their albums are filled with great tracks.

My favorites: “The Take Over, the Breaks Over”, “Hum Hallelujah”, “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More “Touch Me””, “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)”, “She’s My Winona”, “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”, and “20 Dollar Nose Bleed”.

Matisyahu

Notable Album: Live at Stubb’s (2005)

I had the chance to see Matisyahu my freshman year at Cornell, but I had no idea who he was. The posters were up one day advertising a Hasidic Jew singing reggae and so I chuckled and went on with my day. Little did I know that a year later I’d hear a track from his live album in my ex’s brother Bobby’s car and fall in love with his brand of religious reggae. That’s the catch, of course, if Jewish-themed music offends you, Matisyahu is not for you. Then again, aside from allusions to scripture, isn’t reggae really all about peace and love? Matisyahu’s music may be about the Old Testament God, but its a celebration of love, life, and peace that will undoubtedly make you smile. My favorite songs by Matisyahu are “King Without a Crown”, “Aish Tamid”, and “Chop ‘Em Down”

Wolfmother

Notable Album: Wolfmother (2006)

Ever feel like the days of classic rock are gone? You must not be listening to Wolfmother. We’re talking straight up 1970s, Satan’s music here. From their ridiculous throwback album covers to the solid guitar solos, these guys clearly never gave up on the past and they want to bring it to the youth of today. They sound so classic that I didn’t notice for months after playing their songs in Guitar Hero II and Rock Band that the year was post 2000. If you’re ever craving a true hard rock sound, look these guys up. They’ll rock your socks off.

Best songs: “Woman”, “Joker & the Thief”

Incubus

Notable Album: Light Grenades (2006)

I know what you’re thinking. Incubus, really? Yes, really. Light Grenades was a solid album. Their best work in the decade, really. I happen to really love “Dig”, “Light Grenades”, “Anna Molly”, and “Paper Shoes”. It’s my list, leave me alone.

Streetlight Manifesto

Notable Albums: Keasbey Nights (2006), Somewhere in the Between (2007)

Probably my favorite ska act and one with kind of an ugly history. If you’ve ever heard of Catch-22, you’ve probably heard their most famous album, Keasbey Nights (1998) and the vocals of Tomas Kalnoky. At some point Kalnoky and the rest of the members had a major falling out and the band mostly split up. Kalnoky started up Streetlight Manifesto and the band gained notoriety quickly while Catch-22 morphed into a new band, but still played Kalnoky’s old songs from Keasbey Nights. Things were pretty dicey and ugly for a time too, because the bands traded lyrical jabs on their subsequent albums and, eventually, it seems that Kalnoky decided it was worth re-recording one of the seminal albums of third-wave ska, hence the Streetlight Manifesto edition of Keasbey Nights. As the owner of both editions of the album, let’s just say that the extra time and money made an already good album great. Kalnoky’s music work in Streetlight is sharp, the horns are solid and the guitars are great, creating a sound that you can’t help jamming to. Their best work comes out in “Riding the Fourth Wave”, “Keasbey Nights”, “Would You Be Impressed”, and “Somewhere in the Between”. Ska can be hit and miss, I know that most people don’t like it, but you’ve gotta check these guys out, they’ve refined the genre to its best.

The Fratellis

Notable Album: Costello Music (2006)

The UK makes the list again with Scottish rock band The Fratellis. Their music is so full of energy and that unique, intangible British music quality that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the band after playing their songs in Rock Band for the first time. “Henrietta”, “Chelsea Dagger”, and “Ole Black ‘n’ Blue Eyes” are my favorites from the disc, but there are plenty more where that came from with a mix of wild rock and slower, British-sounding songs to break up the beat and calm the heartbeat. A band definitely worth checking out.

Jarabe de Palo

Notable Album: Adelantando (2007)

I’ve listened to a lot of Spanish music in my lifetime. It’s a byproduct of my heritage, but most of what got airtime when I was a kid was salsa, merengue, the occasional bachata, and (nowadays) reggaeton. While they’re all plenty fun genres to listen to, there’s not a whole lot of innovation to be found in the strict confines of their musical definitions. Then Daniela went and introduced me to yet another great band, Jarabe de Palo. They’re not what you’d call typical Latin music, in fact because they’ve gone and formed a rock band and it’s actually not half bad. It’s actually pretty common to see other countries try and adopt American musical styles, but the results are usually pretty ghastly. Thankfully, Jarabe de Palo avoids this common shortcoming of foreign rock and is actually some pretty great music. His best tracks (that I know) are “Me gusta como eres”, “Dejame vivir”, and “Estamos prohibidos”.

Jonathan Coulton

Notable Albums: Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow (2004), Thing-a-Week 1-4 (2006)

In 2007 I played a game by Valve called Portal. Aside from being one of the best games in the history of gaming, it also featured one of the greatest songs in gaming at the end, “Still Alive”. That same Christmas, my ex-girlfriend’s brother (he makes a reappearance) showed me a youtube video of Coulton playing “RE: Your Brains”. Both were great, but in the hustle of the season, I failed to take notice of Coulton until about April or May of 2008. On a whim, I decided to check out Coulton’s work and bought his entire collection off of his website without listening to most of it. That day I took notice of the greatest Internet folk sensation to ever grace the web. Coulton’s music is mostly nerdy love songs and he himself has claimed that he needs to make an effort to write fewer melancholic love songs, but he’s also got songs about completely random things, like a tall tale about baseball’s first commissioner and how he dealt with the Black Sox Scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (in a song appropriately titled “Kenesaw Mountain Landis”) or one about the trials and tribulations of being a clown (“Bozo’s Lament”). Perhaps his greatest undertaking was his Thing-a-Week challenge, where he took it upon himself to write and produce one song every week, which actually produced some of his most famous songs like “RE: Your Brains” and “Code Monkey”.

Other than the songs I’ve already mentioned, my favorites include “Screwed”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, “Madelaine”, “Mandelbrot Set”, and “When You Go”, but I could list 10 or 20 more songs that are just as fantastic. Even better is that Coulton is all about Creative Commons and he understands the internet. He’s got an option to pay him some cash if you’ve already stolen his music and he’s more than happy to let you remix it or use it however you want, so long as you credit him. He’s truly a product of the Internet and a great musician to boot.

2007/2008 also brought two big concepts that changed the way I dealt with music and time. One thing, podcasting, is arguably not music, but it’s audio-related, so it’s worth mentioning. Before I had an iPod, I occasionally walked around campus with a CD player, but I mostly didn’t listen to much at all. After I got one and started getting podcasts, the way that information was relayed to me made a fundamental change and now I was learning about all of my hobbies and passions during my dead time walking around campus (and driving to work once I graduated). It’s pretty amazing to see that in a few short years which podcasts I’ve settled on and which ones I’ve moved on from as I struck a balance between too much (and a diminished ability to listen to anything but podcasts) and too little.

The other major musical revolution of the decade was the rise of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I first played Guitar Hero back in the summer of 2007 and I immediately fell in love. When word started to trickle in about Rock Band, I was initially skeptical, since I believed it to be a knockoff (I later learned that it was the true evolution of the series put forward by the true innovators behind the magic, Harmonix), but I eventually came around and pre-ordered the special edition for my xbox. That game meant a lot to me and it even changed some fundamental things about me. It’s also been one of the best ways for me to gain access to new music and has widened my musical tastes considerably.

Back to bands!

Anamanaguchi

Notable Album: Dawn Metropolis (2009)

I get why people might be skeptical about chiptunes. It’s 8-bit music coming out of retro sound chips and nine times out of ten, people use it to just remix video game music. Imagine my surprise when I read an article about Anamanaguchi on Kotaku by Leigh Alexander detailing how this Brooklyn band was making great strides. Their music is top notch and stands out from the crowd because they don’t just play a 1985 NES, they’ve also got a drummer, guitarist, and bassist thrown in there. The music may take its cues from some of the conventions set forth by the game composers of the 1980s, but their music is completely original and super catchy.

My favorites: “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”, “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”

Sambomaster (サンボマスター)

Notable Albums: サンボマスターは君に語りかける (Sambomaster is Talking to You) (2005), 僕と君の全てをロックンロールと呼べ (Call everything that we (you and I) are ‘Rock n’ Roll’) (2006)

What’s an article on this blog without some sort of tim rogers mention? It was this year that I read “changing the world in japanese” on his blog LargePrimeNumbers, a treatise on rock music, Japan, and, most importantly, how Sambomaster was one of the most important bands playing in Japan. Listening to the track he had posted on that article, Romanized as “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”, I saw precisely what he was saying and became an instant Sambomaster fan. From that sandpaper, gravely voice to the emotion that is so obviously apparent through the language barrier, Sambomaster’s music speaks to a deep part of me. The guitars are stellar and interesting, the drumlines are solid, and Takashi Yamaguchi’s vocals just resonate and feel so right.

My favorite story about the band is that I’d actually heard their music back in 2005 as the fifth opening to the Naruto anime. I had no idea what the band was called or what the song was, but when I heard it, I immediately called it my favorite opening of the series and filed it in the back of my mind. Imagine the joy that returned to me when I was reading about Sambomaster on tim’s site and I downloaded and listened to “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”. As I recognized Yamaguchi’s distinct vocals and guitar style, I immediately began researching whether or not the same group was responsible. I was right and I’ve been smiling about the band ever since.

L4D2: Great Game or Greatest Game [GO]
Nov 19th, 2009 by Dan

I honestly can’t stop gushing about L4D2, it’s that good. Since I last wrote I’ve played through the Swamp Fever campaign (still haven’t beaten any on expert) on cooperative mode too and every map but The Parish (final map) on versus and I’ve been enjoying every minute. BULLET POINTS ARE GO!

– As predicted, the special infected were able to do a good job in the hotel, but it wasn’t as imbalanced as I thought. I’ve since learned that a charge toward the abyss or a jockey ride off of the building would be a better choice than a drive down the ledge.

– Speaking of Chargers, those guys are brutal. In the first map of Swamp Fever, the survivors have to call a slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow boat over to them to cross into the swamp. Guess where you shouldn’t stand: with your backs to the water. I got charged right on the edge and the charger and I went flying into the river where I drowned. Jockeys are dangerous here too, since they can run you off the edge. I wonder if Smokers can stand on the other side and pull you in too?

– NEVER gather your entire team into a small, enclosed space if you even think that one of the special infected is a Spitter. She will decimate your team. I watched my team climb underneath a truck to fight off a horde for some reason. They were trapped down there because the horde kept advancing and one spit knocked the three of them out. It was embarrassing.

– Adrenaline is the best new item in the game, but I always forget to carry it with me. Increased run speed and zombie slowdown resistance are nice, but the real draw is how fast it allows you to pick up incapacitated survivors. If I can remember to keep some on me, tanks will have a real hard time keeping us all down.

– The AI Director 2.0 hates humanity even more, if that’s even possible. I don’t know what malicious code they put in there, but spawning three special infected all at once seems cruel. Even worse, the AI knows when they don’t have to use their abilities. I tried (in vain) to kill a charger as he jumped at me in a house and punched me in the face. He didn’t even properly set up a charge because he knew he didn’t have to. Meanwhile, the AI Jockey won’t bother with its pounce move either if it knows it can sneak in with a horde and melee your health to bits.

– The Sugar Mill level goes something like this the first time you play: “HOLY CRAP, TANK! I’ll run around the edge of this…AH WITCH!” and then you die.

– Hard Rain’s weather effects are fantastic. That thunderstorm REALLY comes down and the Burger Tank finale is a really sharp place for a finale crescendo.

– The new scoring system for versus make a whole lot more sense. I’ll miss health bonuses, but it’s great to see the status bars and understand more of where the scoring comes from.

– Dark Carnival is my favorite campaign so far. One of the maps has you running along a roller coaster and the finale has you starting up a rock show to attract a helicopter. There’s a level that takes place in the Tunnel of Love! You can play Mustachio games! The only downside…clowns. So many clowns. They’re so evil looking.

– The new finales are all really interesting and cool. I like that there’s so much variety between them and even some neat ideas with the campaigns. Doubling back over slightly modified versions of the same maps in Hard Rain (with accompanying weather) is super great.

Can’t wait to get back into the game tonight.

NSMBW and L4D2 Impressions [Game Overview]
Nov 17th, 2009 by Dan

Last night was most definitely a game night, the likes of which I haven’t had in ages. Ian and Darek were both over to play some New Super Mario Bros. Wii and I was curious about whether or not I could ruin more friendships, so I started the evening with tomfoolery in mind.

In our marathon session (from about 1800 to 2300) we played through worlds 1, 2, half of 3, and 6-8. Like most Mario games, the first two worlds were pretty simple and there were few instances where we all died that weren’t caused by stupidity, so we really started to let our jerk flags fly. Some things we discovered while being tools:

– So long as there is one player physically interacting with the course, it will continue. That seems obvious, until you realize that at any time a player can press A to go into a bubble. Having taught that little trick to Darek and Ian, Darek was quick to learn a use for it that I hadn’t even considered. If I threw him off the level or he was about to die, he’d bubble up right away and float back to me. Ian and I picked it up soon after, but there were cases where we were all about to die, so we all bubbled up. Guess what, that’s a fail state. All players are returned to the world map, no lives are lost, but all power-ups are now gone.

– You can butt stomp another player off of their Yoshi to steal their ride. The stomp knocks them off and the continued downward momentum puts you in the saddle.

– While we’re still talking about Yoshi, he can eat almost anything. Shells, fireballs, hammers, other players, enemies, and berries. He can also hover.

– Butt stomping is a great way to kill a buddy. Depending on their reaction time, they probably won’t be able to bubble up in time to avoid falling off the platform you just knocked them into.

– Pounding down a chain chomp’s stake will launch it at full speed in the direction it was facing. Make sure it’s facing someone else.

– Fireballs are dynamic light sources in dark, cavernous levels. Great news, unless your partners are shooting fireballs alongside Fire Brothers and it becomes too confusing to tell which balls are safe and which aren’t

– The music in the game is so infectious that the enemies dance to it at certain times. Be aware of this if you’re trying to time a tricky jump.

That’s it for random things I noticed that aren’t completely obvious. A quick break for a coin battle after World 2 honed our competitive edge, but we quickly found ourselves teaming back up as we got closer and closer to World 8 and its mega-tough levels. One level, 8-5 or 8-6, had waves of lava obscuring platforms that we had to get across. A complex system was developed because I refused to just bubble up and let one person carry us across, so we ended up all trying to make our way as we lost tons of lives, but we had a lot of fun doing it and victory was sweeter at the end.

I won’t spoil anything about the final boss, but let me just say that it was appropriately awesome. We plan to team back up to take on the rest of the levels we skipped (along with the bonus world) soon. It’s just too good not to.

L4D2

I got less play time with this than I hoped, since Valve’s releases went in waves and my copy of L4D2 wasn’t activated until 0130. Since I had work today, I didn’t want to stay up too late, so I booted up a single player game (less chance of me continuing all night if there aren’t real people to guilt me into staying) and started in the first campaign, Dead Center. It’s been widely mentioned that there’s more of a narrative arc to this game and what I’ve seen so far seems to support that claim. There was no opening cutscene for the campaign, like I thought there might be, just the survivors all on the roof of a hotel watching a gunship leave them behind. With that, it was time to climb down to the ground floor of the hotel.

Unlike Left 4 Dead, the survivors start with next to nothing available to them. The opening weapons table contains only health, melee weapons, and a pistol. No submachine gun. No shotgun. In fact, this entire first campaign seems like it will be an exercise in absolute domination by the special infected. I think that the best move in this situation is probably to let the best marksman in the group dual-wield pistols by having the worst marksman sacrifice his pistol for a melee weapon.

The hotel plays out a little like the Mercy Hospital from the No Mercy campaign of L4D in that it’s littered with tons of rooms to explore and search for ordinance. There are some neat little easter eggs peppered throughout about the special infected, but not much beyond that, until things start to get real. Not content with letting the survivors calmly climb down to the ground floor, players are eventually forced to traverse the outer edge of the hotel by climbing through a window. The reason: fire. Somehow this hotel keeps catching fire in various places, conveniently blocking easy exits and forcing you onto ledges. I’m not sure how this will play out in versus, but it seems terribly unbalanced. A charger could easily knock guys off the edge, a jockey could ride them off, a smoker could pull one off, a hunter’s pounce could knock them off, or a boomer’s boom. Not to mention the tight spaces make the survivors easy bait for the spitter!

After finally spotting a working elevator, the survivors enter and introduce themselves. It’s kind of a neat moment and it shows how the whole narrative arc will play out (if I’m right). No cutscenes, just moments of calm where personalities will be expressed and fleshed out. Then I started to notice smoke creeping into the elevator…

That’s right, the entire bottom floor of the hotel is burning down. Escape is hindered by flames blocking paths and thick, suffocating smoke. I’m pretty sure the smoke does no damage, but it makes it almost impossible to see much of anything down there. It’s a special infected playground, provided they don’t set themselves alight. They’ll be murdering survivors like it’s their job.

The second map in Dead Center takes place in Savannah proper and has the survivors wandering through the city in the daylight, headed to a gun store that Ellis knows about. There’s a neat moment where Nick is a jerk and Coach tells him off and we’ve had our storytelling for the map. This level plays out a lot more like a traditional L4D level, but in the daylight. I suppose the increased visibility lowers the tension somewhat, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any easier. Witches wander in the daylight and AI partners are typically too dumb to leave them alone.

Broad daylight hurts the special infected more than anything for versus mode, so it seems that Valve compensated for this by creating tons of nooks, crannies, and tall buildings for the infected to ambush the survivors from. All that said, I still think this shifts the balance back in favor of the survivors after that first map. The gun store features plenty of tier 2 weapons to have some fun with and even a gun modification in the form of a laser sight. I’m pretty sure that these will randomize some, but it was a neat little thing to have with my burst-firing rifle. This is also where Valve is able to highlight their first “new” crescendo event. L4D had you mostly hunker down and defend against the horde until the craziness wound down. L4D2 makes you progress or the craziness will NEVER wind down. So call the horde I did and all to get soda for the guy who owned the gun shop so he would let me pass. Not the best motivation, but I guess it works ok.

The third map takes place within the aforementioned Center. Malls are a staple of the zombie repertoire, so it’s no surprise that Valve finally sent some survivors in to check things out. To recap: the first map seems horribly imbalanced in the special infected’s favor. The second feels pro-survivor, but the new crescendo events have the potential to end many a playthrough. This third level is definitely a special infected wonderland. Aside from a few spaces where a skylight shines in, the entire mall is pitch black. I’m pretty sure that a zombie could slowly follow you the whole way through and you’d never know it if he kept quiet about it.

Halfway through we found that we had set off a security alarm and had to climb to the third floor to turn it off. AI Director 2.0 must have been feeling particularly malicious, because she sent us a tank to help us get there stress free. Hoping that my buddies would survive long enough, I made a break for the room and was lucky enough to not get pounced along the way. As I made my way back, one of the computer-controlled players was dead, one was incapacitated, and the other was low on health. He was incapped soon after and I got pounced with a tank running right at me. Map over. Time for bed.

If there’s one thing I can tell you with certainty, it’s that Valve has not hit a sophomore slump with the L4D series. Dead Center is full of great new ideas and amazing refinements on the first game, which is a lot like NSMBW, when you think about it. Who would have thought that there were still so many good ideas left in both series to do such great work? The only complaint I have about the new campaign so far is that getting soda feels like an uninspired catalyst for a crescendo event, but I guess the apocalypse brings out the crazy in everyone.

More impressions as I actually play with people tonight. Maybe I’ll even try Realism mode.

Left 4 Dead Trailer Leaked [Game Overview]
Oct 23rd, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

We’ve gone and hit the mother lode, folks. A Left 4 Dead 2 trailer was “leaked” (I don’t believe in PR leaks of things this awesome…) and is making its way around the nets. Just watch it below. It is drop dead sexy.

As far as I’m concerned, Game Overview is done with that. How do you top it? (Answer: You don’t!) I’ll continue anyway since I’ve been getting lazy and I’ve gotta write more than just that.

It’s A Good Time For Sequels…

My other most anticipated sequel (now that Uncharted 2 is out and I’ve beat it (SO GOOD!)) got a release date last week. Bioware’s space epic, Mass Effect 2 will be launching 26 January, wisely dodging the release of Modern Warfare 2 by a few months.

It’s cowardly, but I can’t complain about it, I mean, all it does is give me tons of space to enjoy this holiday season’s releases. Still, I can barely wait to see what Commander Shepard’s got in store for the alien threat that’s attacking humanity. Despite it being a rather typical hard science fiction space opera, it was a really neat story and it looks like Bioware is learning all the right lessons from the first game.

He’s Just A Poor Boy From A Poor Family

LEGO Rock Band has been rolling out a bevy of LEGO-ified rockers for the game, including Iggy Pop and David Bowie which seem to have everyone intrigued. The latest announcement: LEGO Queen.

Along with the other Queen songs that got added to Rock Band 2, we should be able to get a pretty sick rock show full of Queen songs played by LEGO versions of the bandmates. I can’t wait. I’ve even got “Somebody To Love” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” stuck in my head. Too bad half of those aren’t in either game…(the “Don’t Stop Me Now” half).

And that’s all we’ve got for this week. Another short newsweek, but most of the news has to do with new releases. Go out there and play a game or something!

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